Situated Learning and Today's Work Environment

Situated learning is an idea developed by Lave & Wenger (1991. Essentially Lave argues that learning as it normally occurs is a function of the activity, context and culture in which it occurs (i.e., it is situated). There are 2 fundamental principles:

  1. Knowledge needs to be presented in an authentic context, i.e., settings and applications that would normally involve that knowledge.
  2. Learning requires social interaction and collaboration.

If you think about it, those principle contrast markedly with much formal classroom and workshop activities. Too often learning is out of context and abstract and theoretical in nature.

I guess we have known for a long time about the importance of group working and neuroscience is indicating that it is even more critical than we thought. Social interaction is a critical component of situated learning as is the participation in informal communities.

So I thought a small discussion on situated learning was worthwhile because I believe in general terms we are still struggling to extract optimum learning out of frenetic work environments.

The Bus and the Bicycle

I think this is a useful analogy for situated learning, The bus represents formal learning it is scheduled and prescribed and has a determined destination. Learners who step on the Bus hopefully have chosen the right bus and know where it will take them.

Formal learning—riding the bus—is great for novices. It’s useful to have help getting the lay of the land and getting to the destination. Training departments are very talented at setting up bus routes.

Informal learning, what the bicyclists do, is most appropriate for people who already know the territory. They want tips on the new shortcuts and the essence of a topic. They want to plug the holes in their knowledge, and they won’t sit still for bus rides to their destinations.

Here’s the irony: The cyclists are the high performers. Raising their performance 5 percent blows the roof off. (Whereas raising the performance of novices 5 percent doesn’t even register.) When it comes to learning, most corporations are spending the most money where it will do the least good.

Training functions don’t devote much effort to helping cyclists.

  • Informal learning happens outside of class.
  • There’s no curriculum and no certificate of completion.
  • Informal learning includes things like trying and failing, asking a neighbour, reading a book, or watching television..
  • It’s how we make sense of things.

Informal and formal learning are the end points of a continuum (Buses and cycles

Have a think about this and your work environment and culture

Work is a demanding, pressure-packed, rats-in-the- maze race with the clock to get the job done.

Home is a comfortable, private space for sharing time with family and individual interests.

How about I propose a third space neither work nor home, we'll call it the World Café. This is a neutral spot where people come together to offer hospitality, enjoy comradeship, welcome diverse perspectives, and have meaningful conversations.

Shared spaces encourage dialogue.

Much work based learning is informal, chaotic and involved with others: talking with them, watching them and reflecting with them. If we are to optimise learning and learning transfer we need to think more broadly about the context and social aspects of learning and that is where situated learning can help us think about these things a little differently.

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